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I often find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in the company of geezers whose political views veer sharply rightward from my own. It makes for some lively conversations when we exhaust our opinions on the local sports scene and wander into the realm of current affairs. What unites us, however, is a general appreciation for our monthly Social Security checks.

Yes, it’s a brazen form of social welfare and, depending on how you run the numbers, a fiscal disaster waiting to happen. But it’s a lifeline for some 60 million elderly Americans who tend to vote every two years, a fact that serves to discourage any politicians outside of the darker corners of the GOP to seriously consider messing with it.

The folks at AARP operate under no similar constraints, of course, and last month they released a collection of proposals that would dramatically expand the program’s reach and benefits. The product of the organization’s Social Security Innovation Challenge, the winning ideas include:

  • Extending Social Security credits to those who serve as caregivers to family and friends.
  • Establishing a minimum benefit plan to ensure that low-income workers retire with a Social Security income that is no lower than the poverty level.
  • Allowing middle-age workers with inadequate retirement savings to contribute “catch-up” funds to their Social Security account.
  • Offering income support for those pursuing job training or other forms of higher education.

Writing in the journal Public Policy & Aging Report, Deborah Whitman, PhD, AARP’s chief public policy officer, notes that the organization doesn’t endorse any of the specific proposals but hopes they will encourage further research and debate. “Transformative policy solutions take time to develop, refine, and implement, and this is especially true for Social Security, given its size and importance,” she explains. “I am confident that the innovations offer an important new resource for people who are committed to finding new ways to strengthen Social Security’s solvency and adequacy.”

I’m not so naive as to suggest that Congress is poised to act on any of these recommendations anytime soon, and I suspect my right-leaning friends may view such an expansion of benefits as nothing but another cruel attack on the beleaguered American taxpayer. But it’s heartening to discover that there are people out there working to improve, rather than demolish, a program that keeps millions of geezers afloat — no matter their political leanings.

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